“Separate but Equal” was the rallying cry of racism.
Original caption: Charlotte, NC: A crowd of youths taunts Dorothy Geraldine Counts, 15, as she walks to a previously all-white Harding High School to enroll. Leaving the school, she was pelted with trash, small sticks and pebbles. (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)
Anyone who dared go up against the idea that schools should be integrated found themselves the target of really classy behavior;
On the morning of September 4, 1957, fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts set out on a harrowing path toward Harding High, where-as the first African American to attend the all-white school -she was greeted by a jeering swarm of boys who spat, threw trash, and yelled epithets at her as she entered the building.
Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey captured the ugly incident on film, and in the days that followed, the searing image appeared not just in the local paper but in newspapers around the world.
A week later, the girl in the photograph was gone. Her parents -having been told by the school administrators and police officials that they could not guarantee her safety -sent her to live with a relative in suburban Philadelphia, where she could peacefully attend an integrated school.
The text above, from an article about Dorothy Counts today, recounts just one incident among countless – but sadly, the story doesn’t really have a happy ending.
Ms. Counts, who has long been active in the fight to attain racial tolerance and equality of education and other opportunity, sees things headed in the wrong way.
At West Charlotte High — a predominantly African American school her granddaughter recently graduated from — she says the lack of resources is disturbing.
“At the beginning of the school year, they would go for weeks without books, for weeks without enough chairs for everyone in the classroom,” she says. “When I heard about that I thought, Lord, this brings back memories.”
I wonder what kind of memories Ms. Counts could relate? Here’s a quote from Jonathan Kozol, in his troubling book, Death at an Early Age, which recounts his first year of teaching in the Boston schools in the 60s, Kozol recounted the attitude of racist teachers who infested the system:
“You children should thank God and feel blessed with good luck for all you’ve got. There are so many little children in the world who have been given so much less” [said teacher who didn’t care to address reality.] The books are junk, the paint peels, the cellar stinks, the teachers call you nigger, the windows fall in on your heads. “Thank God that, you don’t live in Russia or Africa! Thank God for all the blessings that you’ve got!”
And now we live in the 21st century, when such inequality, such oppression, such discrimination should be behind us. Yet in a December, 2014 essay, two prominent voices for equality (Grace Ji-Sun Kim and the Rev. Jesse Jackson) point out that what we are now seeing in Baltimore (which at the time of writing had not yet happened) is the result of a continuing pattern of inequality.
The dying words of Eric Garner symbolize our situation. “I can’t breathe” speaks from the grave and describes the circumstances faced by many who are being choked by a system that treats different races and classes of people unequally.
When the banks of black and brown homeowners drove them into foreclosure, we couldn’t breathe.
When inner-city hospital trauma units are closed to those without insurance and the poor are denied access to Medicaid, we can’t breathe.
When inner-city residents are denied access to public transportation to get to where the jobs are, we can’t breathe.
When inner-city schools have a lower tax base to support public education but students have to take the same exams as suburban kids with a stronger tax base, we can’t breathe.
When they changed the formula on PLUS loans loans, poor and black parents couldn’t breathe.
When student-loan debt is greater than credit-card debt, students can’t breathe.
When corporations we support will not advertise with black media, black-owned media can’t breathe.
When Silicon Valley locks us out of boards and corporate suites and locks us out of employment, contracts and entrepreneurial investments, even though we disproportionately use their products, we can’t breathe.
When banks cut off lending and investment to African Americans, they cut off our breath; but the government gave failing banks oxygen tanks with no obligation to help those who paid for the oxygen.
As inequality persists, many are left in the dark, desperate for life and breath.
And yet there are some who wonder why things like Watts and Baltimore happen. What I wonder is why it doesn’t happen more often.
Middle-class America is talking a lot these days about living as the 99%, and there’s merit in that conversation. But I hear more outrage from people who live better than most of the world’s population with regards to their own situation than I do about people in our own country who have virtually next to nothing, and who are being kept in that situation by societal pressures which persist in large part from the days of slavery.
I believe in Reverend King’s dream, but my own dreams go farther.
I have been accused of hoping for a utopia, a socialist paradise, but I believe that as a species, we as humans can do much better for one another than we have ever done. I believe in a world that works for 100% of humanity, where those who have give freely, and where those who have not can work for what they receive; where hate and envy do not trouble us; where divisions over race, religion, and gender are done away; where children are taught principles of humane living with just as much vigor as they are taught their three Rs.
To those who would dismiss these dreams as pie in the sky, I simply say that if we do nothing today, we will live tomorrow the same way we lived yesterday.
The Old Wolf has spoken.